Be the best associate a client has ever had and you will be the first person the client thinks of the next time there is an opening...
I had to work very hard to get my first real lawyer jobs out of law school. The market was saturated with available lawyers and while I did well in law school, I did not go to a Top Ten law school. I sent out hundreds of cover letters and leveraged my personal and professional network as much as possible. I even sent resumes to organizations with no postings just in case they were looking – and sometimes this did in fact lead to an interview. Eventually, I was fortunate to have a rewarding clerkship followed by another hard fought position at a national BigLaw firm.
It took a lot of time and many growing pains until I found my niche, but eventually two things came true:
1) I began to love being an employment lawyer; and
2) I began to feel like I was truly helping my clients with their employment law problems.
I continued focusing on these two things over the years and mulled my long-term career goals and interests (e.g., law firm partnership, in-house, etc.). During this time, I began originating a substantial amount of business and bringing in my own clients, even though I was a mid-level/senior associate at the time. This got me some recognition at my firm and it was discussed that I was on the partnership track. I never made any decisions but just continued focusing on practicing employment law and serving my clients.
Eventually, a client approached me about an in-house opening. The stars aligned and here I am. And I absolutely love it. I get to be an employment lawyer, I get to help my client solve its employment law problems, I get to be involved in the delicate interplay between law and business, I get to learn how to assess risk real-time and how to make timely decisions that balance the needs of the business with legal risk. I get to manage cases and develop litigation strategy, I get to work closely with my clients and develop relationships with them, and I get to do all of these things in a work environment that – at least for me – feels more humane than a large law firm.
People with more experience and more seniority have been in your shoes and someone probably helped them get where they are today. Now it’s their turn to help...
I feel unbelievably fortunate to be where I am, but I have also been in the shoes of someone who was looking for a challenging legal position and who was feeling worried about my options. Today, when law students, law clerks and young lawyers come to me for career advice, here is my advice:
1. Be a salesperson
Don’t just troll job listings and then send soulless, standard cover letters to the HR contact. Identify the organization(s) where YOU want to work, find the people who work there who will be your advocate and partner (e.g., someone who went to law school with you? A mutual friend? Someone who went to the same college as you, even if you did not know each other there?) and build relationships with them, and sell yourself to them.
2. Be prepared to do your time
Organizations don’t usually hire entry level lawyers for in-house positions. Get your practical experience from a law firm or governmental agency and if you want to go in-house, give it time to get there. Remember clients of your law firm are a potential future employer! Make your briefs your best writing samples. Make your conference calls your best interviews. Be the best associate a client has ever had and you will be the first person the client thinks of the next time there is an opening.
3. Make your network work for you
Think about your network, build relationships with the people in your network, and make them work for you. People with more experience and more seniority have been in your shoes and someone probably helped them get where they are today. Now it’s their turn to help. Build relationships, be respectful and be patient, but don’t be afraid to ask this question: “Can you help me get this job?”
Ultimately, job searching, like much in life, comes down to being able to sell yourself. Like it or not, this is something we all have to do. Even lawyers. Approach your career and your job searching as a sales challenge and you will stand out.
[Rebecca Signer Roche serves as senior counsel on all labor and employment matters for a multinational defense company's global operations and worldwide workforce of 25,000+ employees. Previously, Rebecca was a labor and employment associate at Littler Mendelson, P.C. and at McGuireWoods, LLP. Connect with Rebecca on Twitter and LinkedIn.
How'd you get that job? is part of JD Supra's In-House Perspective series, which provides in-house counsel a platform upon which to share their views and thought leadership on issues of the day, including industry news and legal developments, relationships with outside counsel, and law practice matters. To participate in the series, email firstname.lastname@example.org.]